Down and Out

Down and Out

Mathies, Chris
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It’s a clear, sunny afternoon at the top of the M, and everyone is taking in Bozeman’s picturesque sights below. You ask yourself, “Does it get any better than this?” The answer is, “Absolutely.” It gets way better, as you launch a speedwing and crank into your first turn right above all the onlookers applauding from the benches below. Then you gain a little altitude to set up for a hard 90-degree banked turn that swoops you mere feet above the hillside. You take a left and buzz hikers who decided to brave the steep way up the M, and then you climb out for a smooth glide over to the parking lot, where you make a couple more turns and land easily in the field below. Then it’s high-fives from other pilots just coming down from the air beside you. Most often, this is all followed by a tasty adult beverage or two at the Bozone where friends share videos and stories from the day.

This is speedflying, the long-awaited union of sky diving, paragliding, and skiing.

We’ve all dreamt of climbing to the top of a large alpine peak in a remote Montana mountain range and simply soaring away from the hillside like an eagle (instead of hiking back down the trail). It’s a dream that a handful of pilots right here in the Gallatin Valley have gotten to actually live.

For those looking to up the ante from speedflying the M, strap on your skis and skin to the top of that line you’ve been drooling over for years. You know the one—the sweet mistress that cast a spell on you the first time you laid eyes on her. The only problems are the cliff where the line ends, the risk of being avalanched over, and the massive climb you just plain don’t want to hike back up from. This is the year to check that run off your list. After a full chute of steep powder, at that critical moment, pull down and glide away from the hill, watching your altitude immediately go from 20 feet to 600 (or more).

Every pilot takes a different approach to the sport; some want to experience a smooth flight, soaring away from a mountaintop, while others desire the rush of the terrain-hugging proximity, flying just a few feet between the trees. Some want to crush thousands of feet of altitude in mere minutes by making high-G turns, and still others want to spiral down toward Earth and loop over their own canopy multiple times in a single flight. And with the surprisingly large and extremely supportive speedflying community in Bozeman, anything is possible

Photos by Andy Macrae

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